I was thinking about the recent mini budget (September 2022) and the fact that the cost of living and the issue of money is on everyone’s mind. The lack of it, the cost of it and the inability for most of us, to hang onto it due to cost of living increases etc.
We quite rightly get upset with certain government policies and, only occasionally, celebrate government initiatives. Local government decisions are also something we get exercised about especially when it impacts on us directly, whether this is the introduction of a badly thought out Low Traffic Neighborhood (LTN) or the closure of a swimming pool.
Local mobilisation can be powerful when it is coordinated and this process and the participation, offers a sort of validation that our views can be heard. The local mobilisation is often successful because everyone gets the reason for it and are motivated.
Apparently ignorance of the law is no excuse to anyone committing a crime. In Latin “Ignorantia juris non excusat”. I had to look that up but might have been able to work out its meaning. Most Solicitors would know the phrase.
In the Middle Ages church services were said in Latin and the meaning of the words were really only understood by the clergy and the wealthy who had the resources to be educated. This meant that the majority of the population had to participate in something they didn’t fully understand. I mean, they understood that they should be good and go to church or risk going to hell when they die, but in the main, they were excluded from most of the meaning due to their lack of Latin. Even after the printing press and the translation of the Bible into English helped, many still could not read or understand much about the world in which they were required to live. There was a barrier to their true participation in the world.
This type of barrier also exists in other aspects of our world. For example, technology where only those who can master the ‘Algorithm’ benefit most. This has contributed to the development of monopoly companies like Amazon, Facebook (meta) and Google. The barriers to entry into this world are so high, that at a certain point, we give up and accept what we are given. Our participation has become limited to the use of easy to use smart phones and frictionless payment systems. All this technology at our fingertips is supposed to help us but, in actual fact only serves to make it easier for big companies to suck money out of our communities. Buying everything with our phones on line does not help our local community. We understand that big business is important but someone has managed to tilt the ‘economic snooker table’ so that most of the balls end up at one corner.
Sadly, there is also a barrier preventing people from understanding the economy and the money system. The whole subject is governed by rules that we feel unable to understand so, we don’t even try. As a consequence we let the system continue to work they way it does without trying to get involved. We even feel angry with ourselves thinking we are ‘dumb’ and its our fault that we don’t understand. Perhaps the way money works is so complex that it suits those in power that we are collectively ignorant.
This barrier is likely to slow down (not prevent) the participation in a project like the Kingston Pound. An initial reaction to our project could be “great what a fab idea’ (who doesn’t want to Support local independent businesses?) Or ‘I don’t get it’ (this could be fear that they won’t or they assume that they won’t because they were not good with figures) Remember the lesson from our parents and grandparents? “keep going, you can do it!”
You see, barriers to understanding exist in many places and as far as the Kingston Pound is concerned we have to try and break down this barrier. We have to explain things in a better way so that people understand why a local currency is as valid a community project as any other.
We think that most people can truly ‘participate’ in the local economy in a conscious way rather than in an unconscious and automatic way. We have been trained – perhaps brainwashed, to use the technology and trained to think that frictionless payments are helpful when we know that with a bit of effort we can do something else. In so doing, gain a bit more understanding of the economy and money.
Most of us will never become the Chairperson of the Bank of England or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but all of us can gain some understanding about money. We should accept our limitations but try in some ways to understand what is going on in our local economy. Our ignorance of the local economy could help accellerate the destruction of our local independent businesses, high streets and the destruction of our community spirit.
“Less healthy high streets have high levels of air and noise pollution, cause users to feel or to be unsafe due to crime and degradation..” Public Health England
Our participation in, for example the Kingston Pound, requires us to make a conscious decision to ‘participate’. It requires us to put some of our money (which may otherwise be spent online), behind our belief that local independent businesses are vital to our community. If we realised that each pound spent is likely to be re-spent perhaps two or three times within Kingston, helping local businesses and local employment, we may be motivated to participate more.